Sustainable Agriculture

Agricultural Pyramid
The food chain is often described as a pyramid – or, more precisely, a “biotic pyramid”. Soil forms the base of the pyramid, plants are on the lower level, then plant-eating animals (herbivores), with animal-eating animals (carnivores) on the top level. The pyramid design shows very clearly that there are many species and individuals at the lower levels, and fewer at the higher levels of the food chain. The reason is that from one level to the next (when one organism eats or is fed by another), there is a certain amount of energy loss or wastage (food is stored energy). So, what affects animal (and human) health and nutrition? Are animals really that much different from plants? If you raise animals, or your family just wants to be healthy, you need to know something about animal and human nutrition. We often hear the phrase, “you are what you eat”, and we know that animals get their food, which later becomes their body substances, from eating plants, or animals that eat plants. but then, as plants do, animals combine the simpler “building blocks” obtained from food substances into more complex substances that make up the cells and tissues of an animals’ body. Remember, too, that plants can also break down complex food molecules into building blocks and energy.

Soil for Healthy Food

In fact, a living plant is very much like a busy city – only much more complex. Plants are built up of thousands of units, known as cells, just as cities are largely made up of buildings. Just as city buildings have different functions, so do plant cells – some are factories, so are for storage, some form a transportation system like the plumbing of a city. The people and workers in cities correspond to the active ions and molecules, enzymes and energy carriers that help “run” a living plant. And, just like the environs and hinterland of cities, so the rhizosphere – the zone close to plants’ roots – soil has a massive influence on plant life. The soil around plants is perpetual motion – atoms, ions, molecules of all matter constant vibrate and float around. Primarily, plants absorb water and nutrients from the soil. The absorption of water into plants is controlled by osmosis – which relies on the relative percentages of water on the outside of cells compared with that within. Once water reaches the central core of a plant root, which is where the “plumbing” is, it enters the water-carrying tissue and is delivered via the root and stem system to wherever it’s needed.

Welcome to Plant City

Healthy grass and soil
Soil is the absolute basis of agriculture – and, therefore, of human existence. We survive by eating plants grown in the soil, or by eating animals that eat plants grown in the soil. It can take several hundred years for a couple of centimetres of soil to form, so it’s obvious we cannot keep losing our topsoil at this rate for much longer. To make things worse, some of our once-fertile soil, along with our groundwater and wells, is being polluted by toxic substances. This includes living soil organisms and dead organic matter that decomposes to form humus. 002mm in size) occur in clay and humus, and are important to soil because of their great ability to hold some plant nutrients. A good soil should have a loose, almost spongy, texture created by tiny sand, silt and clay particles clustering into small “crumbs”. The soil structure, or tilth, affects the ease of water penetration and aeration, root growth, activity of soil organisms, and availability of nutrients. But the most important factor of all is a “glue” secreted by roots and soil micro-organisms – which is one of the many reasons soil organisms are so important. Most soil pH varies from 4 to 10, but most crops do best in slightly acid soils (6-68) Soil pH affects the availability of nutrients, which may be connected with nutrient deficiencies and toxicities;

Soil – core of Survival

Before we tackle a problem, it’s often best to step back and look at the bigger picture. Agriculture works with things of nature…… with natural systems, with living biological species of plants and animals, with the natural environment. Nature, of course, is incredibly complex – even a tiny cell is more complex than any man-made machine. The study of the way in which natural organisms (plants and animals) and their environment inter-relate is known as ecology. Like the gears and levers of a machine, each “part” of nature has its own tasks and functions. An ecosystem works under certain natural laws, and a further problem or penalty follows if you break any of these. In terms of agriculture, the most important natural system is the general food chain. This is returned to the soil where it decomposes into humus, forming natural food for plants, and providing them with nutrients they need to survive.

Natural Balancing Act

soil testing fertilizer new zealand fertnz dairy cows paddock grass performance gains
Animals normally use carbohydrates and fats as “fuels”, although proteins can also be used for this purpose in times of starvation or excess. As far as growth is concerned, the essentials are proteins and minerals (calcium and phosphorus for bones and teeth, iron in the blood, sulphur in some amino acids). But the cellular metabolic activities of both energy production (catabolism) and growth (anabolism) also require thousands of different enzymes, each of which consists of a protein and a cofactor (a mineral element or a vitamin). And then there’s water – an essential nutrient substance as it is a necessary component of all living cells. As is so often the case, good animal health depends not just on heaps of any old food, but on high-quality food in the right proportions. The most precise way to determine the energy value of food is to count calories (kilojoules in the metric lingo) just as humans do. All of this reinforces the message that the quality, not just the bulk, of food is extremely important in promoting animal health. The amino-acid production of plants grown in mineral-deficient soil has been shown to be unbalanced. The bottom line of feeding agricultural animals is their efficiency in converting food into meat, milk, eggs or wool. So what’s the catch? It all goes back to the soil and the proper fertility for the plants that grow in it, and the flow-through effect to providing animals with the correct balance and quantity of feed.

Bottom Line of Soil

Dead organic matter – in the form of the dead bodies of plants and animals, plus the waste excretions of animals – is broken down and returned to the soil so that the nutrients it contains can be reused by plants. There’s a whole host of special organisms out there ready, willing and able to break down -or digest – organic matter. They’re the decomposers, and they use this organic matter for food to build their own bodies or cells; The most important of these decomposers is the micro-organisms: bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi. Earthworms also perform valuable service if they’re around by consuming and chewing fresh organic matter into finer particles that can later be more readily attacked by the micro-organisms. Single-celled bacteria help decompose organic matter to form humus, convert inorganic chemicals into useful plant nutrients, and break down (detoxify) man-made toxic chemicals. Most dead organic matter used in agriculture is of plant origin, either crop residue (dead stalks, leaves, roots, cobs etc) or animal manures containing a large percentage of partly digested plant matter). So, the hungry army of decomposers starts with a food source that contains a large amount of the components of plant-cell walls – cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin. These initial components of organic matter have much more carbon than nitrogen. What exactly happens when dead organic matter decomposes depends on the circumstances. Nutrients can be used much better if organic matter decomposes in the soil, not on it, as the moisture and temperature conditions are more favourable for the growth of micro-organisms.

The Decomposers

pH is a soil condition you hear about a lot from "experts" – excessively so, in fact. The acidity or alkalinity of any substance is defined by pH using a scale of numbers from 0 (most acid) to 14 (most alkaline) with 7 neutral. Soil pH affects the availability of nutrients, which may be connected with nutrient deficiencies and toxicities; The traditional belief is that acidity is bad and should be countered by the application of lime. We should also remember that, when pH levels are above 6, the nitrogen-fixing bacteria azotobacter can flourish; It’s also worth noting that experts usually base their liming recommendations on one pH test. While nitrogen fertilisers (except calcium ammonium nitrate and any nitrate fertiliser) do increase soil acidity, their effect is much less than photosynthesis and nitrogen. Match nitrogen applications to plant growth to increase N uptake by plants – nitrogen uptake increases during periods of active plant growth. Avoid applying nitrogen during dry (drought) periods – dry periods reduce both plant growth and plants’ ability to take up nitrogen.

The pH Connection

The Battle of the Lurgi
There’s no denying the considerable contribution vaccines and anti-biotics make to animal and human health. The thing about viruses is that that they do not have a life of their own: they live and reproduce only in a living organism. A healthy cell is a like an automatic door: it shuts out viruses. However, numerous scientific studies have demonstrated and revealed that an enzyme, catalase offers significant protection against viruses and bacteria, and, thus, against the diseases they carry. Researchers have long identified many illnesses as “diseases of poverty” because they attack animals and humans that live in unhealthy conditions and eat poorly. Just as catalase is known to provide protection against the lurgies, so some foods are known to help combat certain illnesses in people and animals.

The Battle of the Lurgi

Plumbing and Food-Factory Secrets
Plumbing and Food-Factory Secrets, plant nutrition, trace elements

Food Secrets